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(BBSRC DTP) Photoactivatable enzyme upconverting lanthanide nanoparticle conjugates for low energy light driven biocatalysis

Department of Chemistry

About the Project

Biocatalytic transformations are gaining increasing importance in todays’ economy as part of the drive towards more sustainable technology and green chemical synthesis.1 Harnessing solar energy to achieve photo-biocatalysis is even more attractive and several impactful innovations have recently been made in this field. Importantly, light activated chemistry can lead to new chemical pathways and new compounds hitherto unknown in thermal catalysis, opening up new chemical space. In this regard, photo-biocatalysis with UV or visible (blue) light has been developed with photoredox catalyts and light and/or activated enzymes using non-natural electron transfer processes to access new enzyme function. Here, we propose a new alternative to traditional high energy UV-blue light activated enzyme photocatalysis by exploiting more of the solar spectrum and taking advantage of lanthanide upconverting nanoparticles (UCNPs)2 in enzyme-UCNP conjugates (which convert near infra-red light (nIR) to UV or visible light) to enable light activated biocatalysis. At the interface of chemistry, biology, analytical chemistry and physics, this project will involve fabrication of a range of flavoenzymes of the old yellow enzyme family and NADP(H) dependent enzymes that are covalently tethered to UCNPs capable of promoting low energy photo-biocatalysis. Catalytic performance will be assessed and the difference between thermal and photo (UV-visible vs. nIR) activated catalysis in terms of the products produced established. The nature of the excited states and transient radical species will give important mechanistic information and these will be interrogated by a suite of EPR techniques in collaboration with the EPSRC National EPR service in Manchester. Additionally, the possibility of multicomponent and cascade photo-biocatalysis will be investigated using orthogonal chemistries to conjugate different enzymes to the same nanoparticle for example3 as well as the development of in situ bioconjugation strategies.

Dr Louise Natrajan: personal pages:

group web pages:

Dr Sam Hay: personal pages:

Dr Alice Bowen: personal pages:

Entry Requirements:
Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

UK applicants interested in this project should make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. International applicants (including EU nationals) must ensure they meet the academic eligibility criteria (including English Language) as outlined before contacting potential supervisors to express an interest in their project. Eligibility can be checked via the University Country Specific information page (

If your country is not listed you must contact the Doctoral Academy Admissions Team providing a detailed CV (to include academic qualifications – stating degree classification(s) and dates awarded) and relevant transcripts.

Following the review of your qualifications and with support from potential supervisor(s), you will be informed whether you can submit a formal online application.

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website

Funding Notes

Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend only. The University of Manchester aims to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


1. M.L. Verma, S. Devi, M. Mathesh, 2020, Photobiocatalysis: At the Interface of Photocatalysis and Biocatalysts. In: Rajendran S., Naushad M., Ponce L., Lichtfouse E. (eds) Green Photocatalysts for Energy and Environmental Process. Environmental Chemistry for a Sustainable World, vol 36. Springer, Cham.
2. X.J. Zhu, Q.Q. Su, W. Feng, F.Y. Li, Chem. Soc. Rev. 2017, 46, 1025–1039.
3. C. Oakland, M.B. Andrews, L. Burgess, A.R. Jones, S. Hay, P. Harvey, L.S. Natrajan, Eur. J. Inorg. Chem. 2017, 5176–5185

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